These case studies help demonstrate the impact of air safety regulation enforcement on companies involved in destabilizing arms transfers.
The first case of a European air cargo company involved in arms trafficking and subsequently decertified on air safety grounds dates back to 2004, pre-dating the EU air safety ban enforcement lists. More recently, other companies, not specifically named in EC air safety regulations but targeted as a result of EU technical inspection missions have also been banned. These cases, together with other control experiments performed on air safety inspection databases, independently confirm the correlations between air safety violations and air cargo carriers named in arms trafficking-related reports.
Between 2001 and 2004, Moldova-registered carrier Aerocom was involved in a range of commodity smuggling activities and carried out dozens of destabilizing arms transfers to Africa and the Middle East.1 In 2003, a UN Panel of Experts report on the sanctions on Liberia provided a comprehensive account of Aerocom's involvement in shipping arms to Charles Taylor's regime.2 Nonetheless, Aerocom continued to operate in the Moldovan registry3 while individuals associated with the carrier worked from addresses in Kiev and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).4 In 2004, at least two EU member states communicated concerns over air safety and security issues regarding Aerocom to the Moldovan CAA.5 These concerns were significant enough for Moldovan safety inspectors to recommend the withdrawal of the company’s air operating certificate (AOC). Accordingly, the Moldovan authorities did not renew Aerocom’s AOC which expired on 1 August 2004.6
Despite having its AOC withdrawn, Aerocom continued to operate. In August 2004, an Ilyushin 76 TD, operated by Aerocom and using the Aerocom call sign carried out four flights from the US-controlled Eagle Base, close to Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It departed Turkish airspace with flight plans filed for Baghdad, Iraq.7 The aircraft were carrying ammunition and other military equipment as part of a deal organized by British and German arms brokers working on behalf of a US company, Taos Industries Inc. Taos had previously secured contracts from the US Department of Defense to supply stocks of surplus arms and ammunition to the new Iraqi security forces.8
The records of the civilian airport authorities at Tuzla airport contain information on the departure of all four flights. However, one flight was not reported to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Directorate of Civil Aviation. As a result, the European Organisation for the Safety or Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) did not receive all the flight plans. More worryingly, the Regional Air Movement Control Centre in Iraq has no record of any landing slot requests for Aerocom Ilyushin 76 landing in Baghdad during August 2004.9 In November 2004, the same Ilyushin 76 aircraft, operated by Aerocom and owned by a company called Artic, was registered under the AOC of Jet Line International, another company named in arms trafficking-related reports.10 The Ilyushin 76 continued to fly under Jet Line International’s AOC until that company had its AOC withdrawn by the Moldovan authorities for violations of international air safety regulations. This withdrawal, together with that of five other companies registered in Moldova was implemented following the technical inspection visit of an EC-led team of EU member state experts and was reported in the EC regulation of July 2007.11
Aerocom is the first known case of a carrier registered in a Central or Eastern European country that has been named in an arms trafficking-related report and had its AOC withdrawn on air safety grounds. There is some historical precedent for this in the United States, where a US carrier called Southern Air involved in the clandestine shipment of anti-tank missiles from Israel to Iran - under what publicly became known as the Iran-Contra scandal - was later penalized and sanctioned by the US Federal Aviation Authorities (FAA) for not obtaining proper approval for the transportation of hazardous goods.12
Additional cases of companies that have been named in an arms trafficking-related report being decertified for non-compliance with EC safety standards can be found in Serbia. Together with Aerocom, these cases are not mentioned in EC Regulations. In June 2007 an inspection of Serbian air cargo carrier, Air Tomisko, revealed it was operating without Third Party Liability Insurance leading to an immediate suspension of its AOC.13 Later that year, a UN-funded report and an article in the New York Times revealed that the owner of the company had been involved in smuggling small arms and light weapons (SALW) and other commodities to and from a variety of African states for at least 10 years.14
In 2008, following a mission by EU officials to assess Serbia’s compliance with EASA standardization and safety levels, the Serbian Civil Aviation Department withdrew the AOCS of two other companies, United International Airlines (UIA) and Kosmas Air.15 UIA were established in Serbia following the closure of Air Sofia, an air cargo company registered in Bulgaria which had lost its Bulgarian AOC following an EU technical inspection mission to Sofia.16 Air Sofia transferred its aircraft to Serbia where the company was registered as UIA. Air Sofia has been named in multiple arms trafficking-related reports.17 Kosmas Air has been named in a UN sanction committee report which alleged that their aircraft was 'mentioned in the context of the illicit transfer of arms to Liberia' as well as the supply of arms to Rwanda.1
1 Interview with air cargo industry executive, Kiev, Ukraine, February 2007.
2 United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Panel of Experts Pursuant to Resolution 1343 (2001) concerning Liberia, S/2003/498, 24 April 2003.
3 Aerotransport data base (atdb) records,
4 Griffiths, H. and Wilkinson, A., 'Guns, Planes, Ships - Identification and Disruption of Clandestine Arms Transfers', UNDP/SEESAC, Aug. 2007, p, 48 - 51
5 Interview with Valeriu Ceban, flight operations main specialist, certification and authorization inspector at the Moldovan CAA, October 2005.
6 Interview with Valeriu Ceban, flight operations main specialist, certification and authorization inspector at the Moldovan CAA, October 2005.
7 'Chapter 8 - Brokering a covert arms supply operation' in Amnesty International 'Dead on Time - arms transportation, brokering and the threat to human rights', Amnesty International, ACT 30/008/2006, May 2006, p, 113-114
8 'Chapter 8 - Brokering a covert arms supply operation' in Amnesty International 'Dead on Time - arms transportation, brokering and the threat to human rights', Amnesty International, ACT 30/008/2006, May 2006, p, 110
9 'Chapter 8 - Brokering a covert arms supply operation' in Amnesty International 'Dead on Time - arms transportation, brokering and the threat to human rights', Amnesty International, ACT 30/008/2006, May 2006, p, 113-114
10 Griffiths, H. and Wilkinson, A., 'Guns, Planes, Ships - Identification and Disruption of Clandestine Arms Transfers', UNDP/SEESAC, Aug. 2007, p,iv, vi, 50, 51, 61 - 66
11 'Although holders of an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) issued by the Republic of Moldova do not have their principal place of business in the Republic of Moldova, contrary to the requirements of Annex 6 to the Chicago Convention.' Commission Regulation (EC) No 787/2007 of 4 July 2007 amending Commission Regulation (EC) No 474/2006 establishing the Community list of air carriers which are subject to an operating ban within the Community (Text with EEA relevance) Official Journal of the European Union, L 175, 5 July 2007, p,10
12 Pichirallo, J., 'Air Cargo Firm Fights Penalty By FAA Over Iran-Arms Trips', The Washington Post 6 January 1988
13 Email from Predrag Jovanovic, Head of Operations, Civil Aviation Directorate, Republic of Serbia, 10 September 2008
14 Wood, N, 'For Balkan Shipping Agent, War is Good for Business', New York Times, October 7 2007, Griffiths, H. and Wilkinson, A., 'Guns, Planes, Ships - Identification and Disruption of Clandestine Arms Transfers', UNDP/SEESAC, Aug. 2007, p, iv-ix
15 Email from Air Cargo Carrier staff member, 17 August 2008; interview with EU official 1 September 2008.
16 'The Commission has taken note of the revocation of the AOC of Vega Airlines, Bright Aviation, Scorpion Air, and Air Sofia as well as the suspension of the AOC of Air Scorpio decided by the competent authorities of Bulgaria on 21 June 2007. Therefore, as these air carriers cannot operate any air services, no further action is warranted by the Commission.' ommission Regulation (EC) No 787/2007 of 4 July 2007 amending Commission Regulation (EC) No 474/2006 establishing the Community list of air carriers which are subject to an operating ban within the Community
(Text with EEA relevance) Official Journal of the European Union, L 175, 5 July 2007, p, 13
17 Human Rights Watch, Money Talks: Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers, Vol.11, No.4 (D), April 1999 (Human Rights Watch, New York, 1999) Chapter VI, page 1; Bonnier, R “Despite Cutoff by U.S., Ethiopia and Eritrea Easily Buy Weapons,” New York Times, July 23, 1998; South Eastern Europe News Summary, 'Bulgarian air company rejects Romanian accusations', 'More Fallout from Romanian Cigarette Affair', Radio Free Europe, 11 May 1998.
18 United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Group of Experts Pursuant to Resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of Congo S/2006/525, 18 July 2006. p,18